The Long Story About Sheep

My first experience with sheep was nonexistent. I knew that they had wool and went Baaa. I read a lot of books on sheep and the art of spinning wool. It was a dream that I wanted to fulfill. I looked around price wise and the starting price was $75.00 to $500.00. Well that is quite a bit of money if you wanted a small flock. I knew I wanted a flock that would reproduce so we could sell lambs and have extra meat. If everyone was getting $75.00 to start well I wanted in on the action. Here in Maine there is a weekly classified for livestock. I entered in an ad for free livestock wanted. I received a few calls for different kinds of animals such as chickens, goats and sheep.

The call for the sheep was an exciting one since the lady wanted me to take 10 sheep. She explained that the sheep were a hobby and when she had them sheared she sent the wool to Canada to have the wool made into blankets for her Christmas gifts. Now everyone has received a wool blanket she wanted to do something else. She was changing over from sheep to horses. I said “yes” before I checked with my husband. When he called I told him the good news. Now he knew I wanted sheep because I had sheep magazines all over the house and I conveniently left a few in the bathroom.

“Where are we going to put them??” he said.

We don’t have enough fencing or stalls. I am always the one to put a happy face on things, I suggested we clean out our storage area for the sheep, it would be perfect.

“Who is going to do all the moving??” he asked.

“The kids and I will”, I said.

At the time we had goats and he already didn’t like them so I had to choose either sheep or goats. Truth be told I was sick of the goats too, so off to the classifieds they went.

Mid week the woman called me and asked when are we picking up the sheep, I wasn’t sure since I still had the fencing problem to resolve. She said no problem you can have all the fencing and the stakes if you pick them up by this weekend. That all sounded great to me.

I guess this is where I should explain that my husband is an over the road truck driver and leaves on a Sunday and comes home on a Friday. So Friday night we are heading across Maine to the coast for a 2½ hour drive for 10 free Shetland sheep on a million dollar estate. Needless to say my husband was quite grumpy and tired. All we had was our mini van to transport the animals. We took all the seats out and headed over that way. It was almost 9pm by the time we got there and she wasn’t expecting me. When I called her to tell her we were on our way she said fine but she thought I was someone else and the sheep were not corralled in yet.

They finally got them in the barn and we started loading them in one of the sheep had a beautiful set of curly horns and the rest was a variety of colors. Only 8 fit in there snugly but we had no room for the fencing. We would have to come back the next day. The ram kept banging up against the windows and getting his horns caught in the seat belt straps. It was 11pm when we got back on the road. Having 8 animals moving around and sticking there faces in yours and doing Baa in your face was enough to keep us awake. Never mind I think all 8 of them must have peed about a gallon each on the way home. When we finally arrived home it was after 1 am and we backed the van up to the doors of the barn, backed the van in half way and closed the barn doors. We opened up the hatch and a lot of liquid was running out along with manure. The sheep came out and we corralled them into the stall. I fed them some grain that she had given us and pulled out the van from the barn. The carpet was pretty much ruined and it smelled pretty bad. We left the windows open all night to get rid of the stink.

The next day the kids and I pulled the carpeting out and attempted to clean it. It was right down to metal. Then we tried to clean the inside which went better than the carpet. It still smelled sheepish and wooly but we could live with it.

We really didn’t get to see too much of the estate the night before so we were taken aback when we pulled in the next afternoon. Right on a rocky cove a huge house and a brand new barn. She even had matching Persian cats in the barn to catch mice. We went back to pick up the fencing and she had some other pens for us to pick up too. It took a few hours and the inside was packed full. She still wanted us to take 2 more sheep but we declined on the ride home the night before I promised I would never do this again to my husband. He was going to keep me to my word. So now we had sheep and fencing. My husband was not going to set up the fencing too. The kids were off on summer vacation and I thought it would be a fun project to do. Ha Ha Ha no one thought it was fun but me. My daughter will help no matter what but my oldest son won’t. He does make a big production of it all when he doesn’t want to do something. First it is the eye rolling, stomping of the feet, taking his time and then disappearing all together. Finally my daughter and I decide he should stay up at the house and wait on customers. We put up the fencing ourselves. There were holes to be dug at least 3 feet down and every other wooden post was a metal post. The metal posts had to be pounded down to a certain point and all we had was a sledgehammer. I was standing on cement blocks to pound them in while my daughter held them. We had to nail the fencing onto the posts and hood the metal ones on the clips. Okay it wasn’t the greatest job but it good enough. We had used a few trees as posts and we did mange to get my son to at least dig the hole for the posts. It took us a full day and I couldn’t move my neck and my back hurt so much by the time we were done, never mind hot, sweaty and tired.

It’s funny though something my husband swore he wasn’t going to do he sure could find all the faults of the fencing and how it wasn’t right.

Well you know what I didn’t care unless he was willing to fix it then I didn’t want to hear about it. The area that we fenced off was all wild brambles that didn’t produce anymore and a bunch of bamboo. We wanted it cleared and we let the sheep out to feast on what was out there. I really enjoyed them more than the goats; they were pretty quite and wanted no part of human contact except the wether. His name was Brownie; he was a bottle baby from the estate.

In mid January my husband & I decided that we had a few too many animals. It had been an extremely cold year minus 20 without the wind chill. It had become an all day event thawing water in the barn.

Brownie was our male wethered sheep. He was friendly fat old sheep with his big brown saddlebags on each side. He was getting old about 13 years. He ate more grain then the other 7 sheep. When he was neutered his horns were removed and with his age the winter was hardest on him.

Since he was so friendly we decided to take him to the butcher first.

Well as I said it was cold and my husband had dressed in his Thermal suit, hat and gloves. It was my job to find a leash to secure him in the van. My husband thought he could take care of this himself. He bribed Brownie with grain and took two handfuls of wool. Since Brownie was a wethered sheep, he had no horns to grab. Brownie locked his legs and my husband was frustrated. He pulled and pulled with no use. So my husband picked up Brownie and proceeded to walk out the door. As they were half way out the door Brownie’s feet hooked on the lip in the doorway. Now Brownie had footing and he drove his head back and smacked my husband in the face. My husband doesn’t take pain well and he dropped Brownie to the floor and held him down. I came of the workshop to find them both on the floor. My husband’s nose was bleeding and Brownies eyes were watering. I asked my husband what he was doing on the floor. “Stop fooling around”, I said. I tied the leash around Brownie’s neck and led him the van with no problem.

The next time that we needed sheep to go to the butcher we hired someone for $30.00 to chase, capture and deliver to the butcher.

Sometimes being a good farmer is admitting to the things you don’t do well and finding a way to fix it. Now my husband doesn’t have to take a day off from work to chase my farm animals. Some people take it as being lazy because I didn’t do it myself. I look at it as my time spent better on another project instead of hurting myself or the animal trying to transport them.

I love my sheep but I can admit I don’t know everything and shearing is another topic that I have no clue about. After reading all the magazines and books they show a placid sheep just laying there being sheared. I decided to call someone that shears small flocks. Bill has his own sheep farm and does demonstrations at fairs. Bill comes to the area to do 2 other farms and we all split the traveling fee. I spent half the day watching him at work. He was hunched over, sweating and fighting with the animals. My sheep are small and flighty; his on the other hand are big and placid. I don’t want big animals that I don’t feel comfortable handling. So was it worth $7.00 per sheep plus having the hooves done for an extra $.50, Yes it was! If it were me that would have been a 3 day job and I would have ended up calling a vet because I probably would have cut them badly.

During the same winter that Brownie left we had a problem with the male ram “Rusty”. He was a beautiful white ram with the curling horns and a small patch of rusty colored wool in between his horns. It was cold in January minus 20 and with the wind chill it was minus 35. He decided he wanted all the grain and he was going to head butt all the girls. Well now everyone was bleeding from cuts on there heads. We had to separate him from the girls and spray them with an antiseptic blood stop spray. When the spring came and no lambs were produced we decided to sell Rusty. I usually give any animal here 2 months to sell, if not they usually end up in the freezer. I had plenty of calls and emails but basically everyone wanted him for free. That’s not how it works here; every animal here needs to pay for themselves. We put him in the freezer as a mild breakfast sausage. That is a big seller on my farm and Rusty did end up paying for himself.

I kept all the wool from the last 2 shearing and had them stored away for when I had the time to learn to spin. My neighbor came down the first shearing to teach me how to skirt and store the wool. Skirting is when you pick out the big blobs of manure, flesh, hay and sticks out of the wool before storing. Even then the wool reeks of urine and lanolin. I asked my neighbor how to clean it and she said in hot water with a mild soap. I did just that and after the 4th washing it still reeked of the awful smell of urine and wet dog. How am I going to sell this wool, when I can’t even clean it? I asked the Shearer since I had 8 bags sitting in storage. “Sell it dirty” hand spinners would rather get it that way.” I was a little leery because I knew I wouldn’t want to buy dirty wool but it all sold. I was getting $30.00/pelt. Well the sheep just paid for there grain for the year. I never would have thought of selling the raw wool like that. I wasn’t entirely sure about my skirting abilities either but all the feedback I received was that I underestimated my wool; it was the best that they ever received. That gave me enough of a boost to try it again next year.